Eating Carrots With Allen Ginsberg
I once sat under a large sycamore tree with the poet Allen Ginsberg and a small cluster of his students. He was thick around the middle with goofy glasses and bulging wet lips that reminded me of rolled up sandwich meat.
Still, he held court with languid eminence, just as sure of himself in these final years of his life as he must have been when he spit HOWL into the face of a prudish world in 1957. The other time I encountered Ginsberg, he sat alone on stage at the Miami Book Fair, banging a bongo and sing-talking a poem about his asshole … and how, even in his late 60s, it still worked just fine … and he could still enjoy putting a carrot in it. It was most entertaining, and would have been much more so had I not been seated next to my mother.
Ginsberg’s legacy is FEARLESSNESS.
In the 50’s, he vigorously opposed rampant militarism and materialism and unapologetically championed homosexuality at a time when sodomy laws made gay sex a crime in every U.S. state. He took part in decades of non-violent political protest against everything from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs. He lived modestly yet purposefully.
You Can Sing, acrylic, Chinese funeral paper, wrapping paper on canvas, 16″ x 20″, 2003, Stuart Sheldon
I gave a guest lecture in the Communications School at University of Miami this week on The Art of Professional Reinvention. I asked the group of juniors and seniors, “Who is afraid about their employment prospects,” and was shocked to see 80% of the hands go up. One girl told me on a scale of 1-to-10 her fear was a 12. “What are you afraid of,” I asked. “Starting at the bottom” and the prospect of “working my whole life,” she told me.
How is it that, in this exploding time of opportunistic start-ups, new media and interconnectivity, we are graduating an utterly terrified cohort?
Where does this helplessness come from? Granted, the economy is anemic but it is certainly improving. America was and remains a land of opportunity for those with basic resourcefulness. Has the initiative of the next crop of American professionals been murdered by the false, sky is falling narratives spewed by shameless political assassins and radio bloviators? Was this group an aberration … or have we failed a generation? Have we coddled and helicopter-parented our young adults into a state of acute and fatalistic dependence? Ironically, the very things Ginsberg so presciently howled about in the 50’s are equally if not more acutely problematic today … and more in need of fresh blood to fight the good fights. Yet, I sensed little fire in the belly of these students.
There were a few diamonds in the rough. One kid felt deeply passionate about brewing beer. And he’d already made contact with a local micro-brewery by showing up and offering to help out however he could. Bravo! That’s how one gets in the game.
photo from brainzooming.com
A very wise person told me that everyone will pay a lot of money to make their fears disappear. Here is a challenge for these graduates – find a way to calm the nerves of your contemporaries. Make them know that the winners make their own breaks and rules are meant to be broken. And that if you wish to be heard in a crowd, GET AWKWARD. Think Different. More importantly, BE DIFFERENT.
You don’t want to start at the bottom? Fine … one person and a keyboard equals Facebook. Of course, creating Facebook takes a certain level of magic, grit and vision. It was these students’ vision that seemed impaired. Perhaps they need to eat more carrots. Just not ones from Allen Ginsberg.